North Allegheny chasing lofty goals

| Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012, 8:58 p.m.

North Allegheny came into this week's games battling for Class AAA's top spot with a 6-1 record.

The Tigers are determined to continue at that pace.

“Everyone's main goal is a state championship,” forward Matt Fantaski said.

The team's success has put the Tigers in position to do that, but the players are taking it one shift at a time and always looking to progress.

“Every shift has to be better than the last,” sophomore Will Rahenkamp said.

One of the biggest improvements the team has made is staying out of the penalty box.

“Playing with a man down for two minutes is really, really hurtful to the team,” Rahenkamp said. “You don't need it, especially in tight games.”

The team's more disciplined approach is due, in part, to the players focusing on what they bring to the squad.

“Everybody on the team knows their roles,” Rahenkamp said. “We've been taught that really well by our coaches.”

That means that a talented goal-scorer might not be a hard-hitting forward. When each player does his job, the team is able to play as a cohesive unit.

“We need to win as a whole team. Not one guy can win the game by themselves, so everyone knows what they need to do,” Fantaski said.

Fantaski is one of 11 seniors on the team. After playing together for years, both in and out of school, they have great respect for one another and are all leaders in some way.

Black struggled with choosing a captain and assistants all summer, but the players took the initiative and told him they would lead as a group instead.

For a handful of players, that meant forgoing a letter on their jerseys.

“They made the decision that there are other things that are important,” North Allegheny coach Jim Black said. “Everybody's contributed in their own way. Everybody's stepped up. I give them a lot of credit.”

As close as the seniors are, they have welcomed the younger players to the team.

“We don't want to make them feel less important, so we include them in everything, get them in the game,” Fantaski said. “We just look at them as linemates, we don't look at them as underclassmen.”

The Tigers are strong at all positions, especially on defense. They will be even better when their top blueliner, Harry Kramer, returns in the second half of the season after recovering from a broken collarbone.

When the defense hasn't shut down an opposing player, junior goaltender Bradford Thornburgh has been there.

“He's doing a great job at controlling rebounds, not giving teams too many extra chances,” Black said.

Thornburgh has allowed just six goals in his first four games.

“That's huge for us,” Fantaski said. “All we have to do is go out and score goals.”

On offense, NA has four lines of forwards. With the league's new 17-minute periods, that gives them an advantage over many opponents.

“In the long run, we can wear teams down,” Black said.

The depth allows Black to send out a goal-scoring line or momentum-changing line as needed and prevents the forwards from getting tired, especially toward the end of the games when it counts the most.

The Tigers have the skill, experience and depth to contend for a state championship. Now it's a matter of execution.

“As long as our talent works hard, I think the kids will be successful,” Black said. “When you have good talent and talent works hard, you become difficult to beat.”

Amanda Iannuzzi is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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